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David Suzuki article on Consumerism

  1. Oct 11, 2005 #1
    Science Matters by David Suzuki
    Science Matters is published weekly in newspapers across Canada.
    Consumer culture no accident
    Mar 07, 2003
    Most people I talk to today understand that humanity is inflicting harsh damage on the planet's life support systems of clean air, water, soil and biodiversity. But they feel so insignificant among 6.2 billion people that whatever they do to lighten our impact on nature seems trivial. I am often asked "What can I do?" Well, how about examining our consumption habits. Not long ago, frugality was a virtue but today two thirds of our economy is built on consumption. This didn't happen by accident.

    The stock market collapse in 1929 triggered the Great Depression that engulfed the world in terrible suffering. World War II was the catalyst for economic recovery. America's enormous resource base, productivity, energy and technology were thrown into the war effort and soon its economy blazed white hot. With victory imminent, the President's Council of Economic Advisors was challenged to find a way to convert a war economy to peace.

    Shortly after the end of the war, retailing analyst Victor Lebow expressed the solution: "Our enormously productive economy . . . demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption . . . we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate."

    President Eisenhower's Council of Economic Advisors Chairman stated: "The American economy's ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods." Not better health care, education, housing, transportation or recreation or less poverty and hunger, but providing more stuff to consumers.

    When goods are well-made and durable, eventually markets are saturated. An endless market is created by introducing rapid obsolescence (think clothing, cars, laptop computers). And with disposability, where an article is used once and thrown away, the market will never be saturated.

    Consumer goods aren't created by the economy out of nothing, they come from the earth and when they are used up, they will be returned to the earth as garbage and toxic waste. It takes energy to extract, process, manufacture and transport products, while air, water and soil are often polluted at many points in the life cycle of the product. In other words, what we consume has direct effects on nature.

    And then there are social and spiritual costs. Allen Kanner and Mary Gomes state in The All-Consuming Self: "The purchase of a new product, especially a 'big ticket' item such as a car or computer, typically produces an immediate surge of pleasure and achievement, and often confers status and recognition upon the owner. Yet as the novelty wears off, the emptiness threatens to return. The standard consumer solution is to focus on the next promising purchase."

    Ultimately, it goes beyond pleasure or status; acquiring stuff becomes an unquenchable demand. Paul Wachtel says in The Poverty of Affluence: "Having more and newer things each year has become not just something we want but something we need. The idea of more, ever-increasing wealth, has become the center of our identity and our security, and we are caught up by it as the addict is by his drugs."

    Much of what we purchase is not essential for our survival or even basic human comfort, but is based on impulse, novelty, a momentary desire. And there is a hidden price that we, nature and future generations will pay for it too.

    When consumption becomes the very reason economies exist, we never ask "how much is enough," "why do we need all this stuff," and "are we any happier?" Our personal consumer choices have ecological, social and spiritual consequences. It is time to re-examine some of our deeply held notions that underlie our lifestyles.

    Last edited: Oct 11, 2005
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 11, 2005 #2
    Might be better in social sciences.. feel free to move.
  4. Oct 11, 2005 #3
    I think it fits in politics as well - Americans live in a "me" society and this affects the way we interact with the world to the extent that we impose our own values on other cultures.

    David Rakoff (another Canadian) was talking along similar lines as Suzuki (who wrote the Genetics text I used in College :) ) on The Daily Show last night.

  5. Oct 11, 2005 #4
    See, my history teacher never mentioned THAT.
  6. Oct 11, 2005 #5
    Suzuki is a biologist. (just in case you thought he was a professional historian)

    Some info on the Author
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2005
  7. Oct 11, 2005 #6
    No, I'm referring to the bit on consumerism. Last year we studied the Great Depression; he never mentioned consumerism as the solution.
  8. Oct 11, 2005 #7
    Seeing his picture, I recognize him from a few videos we say in my Biology class last year. Anyway, thanks for the link.
  9. Oct 11, 2005 #8
    Consumerism wans't the solution to the great depression, it was their answer to preventing another depression after the war. The war was the solution (used) to end the depression.
  10. Oct 11, 2005 #9
    For the record, I have not ever read any article by David Suzuki, although I have seen a few of his nature shows.

    After reading his article on PF, I believe that the only thing that prevented that article from bringing to the forefront the issue, of "consumerism" and its effects on individuals and the planet, the RIGHT way, was the fact that it, and apparently all arcticles entitled 'Science Matters' (by David Suzuki), was published in "newspapers across Canada".

    Newspapers are an advertising medium designed to promote particular products, whether those products are needed or not.

    Therefore, the mode of communication that Suzuki selected to question consumerism, was 'questionable' at best.

    The RIGHT way for Suzuki to communicate his intended message would be a dedicated website, that does NOT promote ANY particular product.

    But that's OK. "I" am taking care of that. :biggrin:

  11. Oct 11, 2005 #10
    You're kidding. I would've thought the guy would be one of your saints.
    If you check the URL:
    How do you mean? Please, tell.
  12. Oct 11, 2005 #11


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    For those who buy that line about consumerism being a relatively new thing, it may be worth paging through some 150 year old magazines to see what advertisers were selling back then. You can google it, but here's a start:

    And the scourge of advertising in periodicals can be blamed on Ben Franklin (what can't we blame on him?) http://www.adage.com/century/TIMELINE/index.html

    And, of course, the granddaddy of them all - the Sears Catalog: http://www.searsarchives.com/
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2005
  13. Oct 11, 2005 #12
    What line?
  14. Oct 11, 2005 #13
    Let me re-phrase my previous comment.
    The RIGHT way for an individual to communicate consumerism is ONLY a dedicated website.
    I have been creating a website for that specific purpose for MANY months now, since the planet was "back there somewhere".

    Prior to creating the website, which is nearly complete and not yet uploaded, I spent MANY years (since the planet was waaay back there) observing, contemplating and deducing information to include in the website.

    I have structured the text, layout, animations, pre-loaders, sounds, and the information itself in a consistent theme that shall communicate to adult human beings "consumerism", in a palatable way, and the RIGHT way.

    The information that you will learn at the site is unique to my site, as only I currently know that information. :biggrin:
  15. Oct 11, 2005 #14
    What about word of mouth? Book? Essay?
    Sounds awsome, can I see it?
  16. Oct 11, 2005 #15
    Ok, let me re-phrase my re-phrased comment. :rolleyes:

    The RIGHT way for an individual to MASS-COMMUNICATE "consumerism", with the least amount of on-going effort (although making the site has been a Herculean effort, but once its done, its done, and its almost done) and with as little effect on the planet as possible, is ONLY a website dedicated to teaching consumerism.

    However, prior to the first individual teaching consumerism to any other individual, the first individual must possess all the knowledge about consumerism, and that would be Me. :biggrin:

    After flipping through any advertising periodical, or viewing any TV ad or radio ad, or billboard, and considering the feeble response to my thread here entitled "Marketing: how many 'brands' are there'", it is clear to me that ONLY I currently know the difference between a brand and a product.

    To learn exactly what that difference is, you'll have to wait for my site.

    As for seeing it, yeah, once its uploaded I'll notify PF with a thread.

  17. Oct 11, 2005 #16
    Ah, see now you're just pidgeonholing it.
    Not good enough, you have to PM me
  18. Oct 11, 2005 #17
  19. Oct 11, 2005 #18
    Actually, its the opposite.

    A TV ad is action, it is always moving trying to find its "target", not to mention its always changing. And it is always going to you.

    A website is not-action, and more specifically, my site shall not ever change in any way. And you came to me.

    Its the manufacturers of the particular products that pidgeon-holed themselves the moment they intended to PROMOTE the particular product. They chained themselves to TV ads, and the like, and the advertising rates that go along with that like, and they cannot escape that pit of despair known as "reach advertising".

    And to top it off, so as to garner attention for their wares, they have dragged unassuming individuals into that pit-of-despair/pidgeon-hole to watch programs, including 'reality TV', that are paid by selling those spots featuring their wares.

    No, I don't think so. Not on my watch. Reality will start to set in when my site gets uploaded.

  20. Oct 11, 2005 #19
    Suzuki suggests that consumerism is a relatively new phenomena. I believe that it is more of a human nature and has been active since the dawn of civilization. It's just becoming more refined.
  21. Oct 11, 2005 #20
    "Consumerism", the RELATIONSHIP between human beings and the planet, always has been and always will be a part of the human culture.

    Humans need material things. Only the planet can supply those material things.

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